Sunday, May 31, 2015

the willing hand

The human hand is not only the symbol of the intelligent artificer, "the hand of the master," the sign and epitome of the lord and ruler; it is the instrument of the will alike for good and evil deeds. The idea of it as the active participator in every act embodies itself in all vocabularies. The imperial mandate, the lordly manumission, the skilled manufacturer, the handy tool, the unhandy workman, the left-handed stroke, the handless drudge, with other equally familiar terms, all refer to the same ever-ready exponent of the will; so that we scarcely recognise the term as metaphorical when we speak of the "willing hand." – Sir Daniel Wilson, 1891
As you will notice from the quotes I share in this blog, many come from the golden age of the hand, when it was widely recognized as the source of human intellect and of human culture. Since then machines have been called into play to take production more or less out of human hands.  We may take some satisfaction in things being made cheaply, quickly and with little effort. We pay the price in that what the hands gave, their lack of engagement can take away from us.

My wife spent three days this last week making a mosaic under the instruction of mosaic artist Fran Carlin. It was a class with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and she came home with a piece that had challenged her confidence (as all good works must) and delivered upon completion, a sense of pride that was clearly greater than if it had been made without effort. The mechanism of human creativity is that. The making of an object challenges the intellect, and rewards the soul by elevating the character of  its maker. But we put children in schools where they learn stuff that will be quickly forgotten. By putting their hands to work, we would put their humanity to work as well. What they then learn would never be forgotten.

Yesterday I turned a couple mini-crematory urns as shown. I made the turned crosses to test the technique and  I intend also to make a box with fleur-de-lis if I can do it, and another with a turned heart.

Make, fix and create..

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Out of touch...

new turned boxes
The following is from Sir Daniel Wilson, 1891:
Whenever the early and persistent cultivation of the full use of both hands has been accomplished, the result is greater efficiency, without any corresponding awkwardness or defect. In certain arts and professions, both hands are necessarily called into play. The skillful surgeon finds an enormous advantage in being able to transfer his instrument from one hand to the other. The dentist has to multiply instruments to make up for the lack of such acquired power. The fencer who can transfer his weapon to the left hand places his adversary at a disadvantage. The lumberer finds it indispensable, in the operation of his woodcraft, to learn to chop timber right-and-left-handed; and the carpenter may be frequently seen using the saw and hammer in either hand, and thereby not only resting his arm, but greatly facilitating his work. In all the fine arts the mastery of both hands is advantageous. The sculptor, the carver, the draughtsman, the engraver, the cameo-cutter, each has recourse at times to the left hand for special manipulative dexterity; the pianist depends little less on the left hand than on the right; and as for the organist, with the numerous pedals and stops of the modern grand organ, a quadrumanous musician would still find reason to envy the ampler scope which a Briareus could command." — Dr. Daniel Wilson, Left-Handedness. A Hint for Educators.
Out of touch is a term we apply to those who have no direct connection with reality. And so we need look no further than the metaphors of daily life to find a prescription for fixing education. It is time to put our children directly in touch with reality. But that is a hard thing to do when those we've allowed to be in charge of our children's education are so far out of touch themselves.

Stupidity is a self-perpetuating cycle that can successfully be passed half-unwittedly from one generation to the next. Failure to engage the hands in learning and making, leaves children out of touch, disconnected from reality, and lacking a basic, healthy sense of self. Matti Bergström called the syndrome "finger blindness." It is epidemic, particularly amongst those we've allowed to be in charge of the education of our children.

Today I helped a friend cut up a maple tree, finished the reassembly of a friend's broken grandfather clock, and turned some boxes on the lathe. These boxes are small crematory urn boxes designed to hold about 3 tablespoons of ashes. The original idea came when a friend asked me to make a similar box to carry a small amount of her father's ashes to be released in the Ganges River in India. With the turned crosses, these might be destined for Rome.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 29, 2015

calling for a change of response...

Much of what I read about in the news now can be directly attributed to changes in the global climate. There are massive movements in global populations that are brought on by war, violence, expanding population, and failing agriculture. To presume these movements are unrelated to what's happening with water and soil is foolish.

The western political response has been to argue whether climate change is taking place, and whether there is anything we can do about it, as we build walls and barriers to keep people out, and spend trillions of dollars to fight terrorism whose roots lie firmly on what we've done to the climate. Would it not be a better response to stop growth in the carbon cycle carbon and put greater effort into reforestation? It seems that in most things, we have a choice of whether to take a humanitarian approach or the sword (and its more powerful allies.) It seems that humanity is still trying to figure itself out.

Taking after the God Shiva, we are either engaged creatively in our communities, or not. On the global scale, the same principles are in place. We spend money making the world a better place, or we spend greater sums, and ever growing sums to destroy. In the meantime, it will take a revolution to shift children away from sitting idly at the sidelines toward action in response to what we've done in the world. It may seem unrelated, and we may feel powerless. But even small changes in what we do will in time have effect on the whole of humanity, particularly if leveraged on the best of intentions a the clear view of effect. It is what Jean Jacques Rousseau meant when he said, "put a young man in a wood shop, his hands work to the benefit of his brain, and he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman."

By being engaged in craftsmanship, we shape how we think, and are provided the leverage to change the whole thing, but in a fashion that expresses personal humility.

Today I have a Clear Spring School board meeting, and then hope to spend just bit of time making a tiny turned box.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

community and craftsmanship...

Last night I attended the screening of "Eureka the Art of Being" at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and participated in a panel discussion about the arts, and about my home town of Eureka Springs. The movie is a good one and destined for showing on our Arkansas Public Television Network. My own part in it is to explain as best I can, the relationship between craftsmanship and community, and what it takes to build strong communities. There's a whole lot of egotism that must be pushed aside to make things work.

I was reminded last night of an old friend, Hal Mallett, who was a Presbyterian minister, and painter. Years ago (1978), he took over for me as President of the Eureka Springs Guild of Artists and Craftspeople when I wearied of the position after launching the organization in 1977. Hal's daughter Sarah came up to me after the panel discussion and thanked me for using words in my comments that reminded her of her dad. What I had said would have been something he would have enjoyed had he still been with us. And so, life is an unfolding. We are never alone, even though we think we are, and we are interconnected with each other in ways we will never fully understand, both in the present and from the past.

Today I ship works to the Historic Arkansas Museum for an exhibit of works by the designated "Arkansas Living Treasures." In addition, I'll finish my school conference reports and spend just a bit of time on the lathe turning a box or two from maple and walnut.

The story I told last night concerned my old friend Virginia Carey. She had been a child from a wealthy family in Savanna, and had homesteaded with her first husband on 40 acres of land near the Buffalo River in Gilbert, Arkansas in the 1940s. She began missing some of the fine things that she had brought with her, and asked a neighbor about it. The neighbor explained that "when you move here, everything you bring is ours, and everything that you earn when you are here is yours." My first impulse at hearing the story was shock. It sounded like a rationale for theft. But as I explained last night, I learned upon deeper reflection that what the neighbor was so bluntly explaining, was the key to full participation in their community, or any community for that matter. It doesn't work for you if you hold back. To be woven into the "fabric" of community takes a form of surrender to it. In some cases that might mean giving up those symbols that separate us from others.

As I explained in last night's film, I call myself a woodworker, not an artist. The word artist itself, implies pretense, whereas the word woodworker, does not, though I was careful not to state that in such a blunt manner.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Students are now burdened with 10-11 hours of common core testing. Some parents are worried that their children don't measure up. Other parents and groups of parents are in revolt, threatening boycotts and withdrawal of children during test days. Sir Ken Robinson says that education should be a human business, and not one in which children are expected to perform as machines.

Well, OK. This education business is not easy for anyone. Parents and policy makers put pressure on administrators. Administrators are strapped to budgets that allow only so many teachers for so many kids. Like in the game of Money Ball, they try to get the best teachers they can afford. And then along come folks like Sir Ken, and folks like me, who say that schools have it all wrong. What's an admin to do, but to attempt to carry forth in the same old manner with the scant resources that school boards provide? What you see in the cartoon is what we are talking about, and what we are rebelling against, and why the system is breaking.

When Kindergartens began taking American education by storm in the late 1800s, American educators faced a choice. Either change the rest of education to match the Kindergarten ideal, or change Kindergarten to conform to the strictures of traditional learning. At this point, you can see clearly which side won. But if you step back and watch children at work and at play you will see that learning is a basic impulse that should not be restrained.
"This craving of young children for information," says Bernard Perez, "is an emotional and intellectual absorbing power, as dominant as the appetite for nutrition, and equally needing to be watched over and regulated." – Froebel's Gifts, 1895
Today, I will be working on end of year conference reports, continuing to clean the wood shop at school in preparation for ESSA classes, and will attend a showing of Eureka, the art of being, at Crystal Bridges Museum. I have been asked to bring samples of my work for display.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Jig for sizing lids to fit drilled boxes
I became curious about a saying referred to in Forster's "the Machine Stops." The character Kuno,  had learned from his own tentative exploration of the real world that "Man is the measure." His hands and feet gave him definition of space. But the phrase also refers to a quote attributed to Protagoras, that "Man is the measure of all things," which was interpreted by Plato years later to mean that:
"there is no absolute truth, but that which individuals deem to be the truth. Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside of human influence or perceptions."–from wikipedia
Boxes ready to drill with a Forstner bit.
There is a chance that Protagoras was not as bad as what Plato had in mind. He said,
"Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life."
The word measure suggests action. It implies involvement in measuring, not making stuff up and to simply believe whatever you want. He was likely not implying that truth was relative, but rather that it required examination, not blind acceptance of that which we are told by others.

The Machine Stops is a fascinating story published in 1909 by E. M. Forster. It eerily predicts our current era, and immersion in virtual relaity. His name should not be confused with Benjamin Forstner, the inventor of the large drill bits bearing his name that can be used in forming the inside of a box.

The jig shown above is for routing lids to accurately fit holes drilled to form boxes. Years ago, I had made a box for a friend to carry two tablespoons of her father's ashes to India, that she might sprinkle them into the Ganges River. I needed a very precise lid, so that the contents would not be lost through many miles of travel. This jig gives me a way to make boxes with precise fitting lids, so tight they snap on and make a popping noise when you take them off. The clamp holds the lid stock tightly to the jig, but allows it to be rotated counter-clockwise against the spinning router bit. The stop clamped to the surface of the router table controls the diameter of the spigot formed on the underside of the lid.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 25, 2015

test box

I have a new box design based on laminating a number of thin strips of wood to prepare the stock. The lamination was crosscut at a 55 degree angle, and then glued using Gorilla Glue to a piece of mahogany. After trimming on the table saw and squaring the ends, I used a 1 in. forstner bit in the drill press to bore a hole at the center, and used the router table and a custom fence to turn the inside of the lid to fit the hole.

This is one of the boxes I'm making for my book on tiny boxes, and I'm curious what my readers think. You can use the comments function below to provide feedback.

It will be more beautiful when it has been sanded and a finish has been applied to give the natural colors of the wood greater contrast.

With school out for the summer, I am cleaning the school wood shop, getting ready for my ESSA class in making Scandinavian bent wood boxes, and working on school end-of-year conference reports.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

asking for the return of shop classes...

Material for tiny boxes
Sir Ken Robinson wrote an opinion piece for Time Magazine, Why Schools Need to Bring Back Shop Class. I wish politicians and educational policy makers would wake up and pay attention.
The Education Committee of the US Senate is currently considering the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. Much of the original rhetoric in NCLB was about improving job readiness and employability. In a tragic irony, the focus of the last ten years has not been on improving vocational programs at all but on testing narrow academic standards. Overall, the impact on students, schools and employability has been baleful. This is the time to change.
The point of shop classes in the first place was that students were lacking in the kinds of fundamental relationships with reality to give them a foundation for academic achievement. Kids find their academic studies to be relevant when they are engaged in doing real things.

Education of hand and mind at the same time can be quite simple, but in the hands of politicians and educational policy makers, this nation has become one of idiots. Whether by stupidity or by design, politicians and policy makers cut the arts, music and craftsmanship from the heart of our children's educational endeavors and put standardized testing in place. If we want our children to grow, the best strategy is not to measure them constantly, but to feed them meaningful and responsible things to DO.

The following is from Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a man who's ideas I've covered previously in this blog.
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what they really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
In that earlier time, education suffered from an excess of exhortation as teachers infused in the classics and detached from everyday reality stood upon platforms at the head of classes and strutted their stuff. These days, in order to have large classes measured by standardized testing, successful classroom management makes hands-on learning nearly impossible, thus leaving the teachers time only for guess what? Exhortation. So between tests, we have teachers standing before classes lecturing students in subjects for which the students have little interest and in which they see little relevance to their own lives. It is a formula for failure and furtherance of stupidity.

But schooling can be fixed. Sir Ken described the effects of renewed shop classes as follows:
Students who’ve been slumbering through school wake up. Those who thought they weren’t smart find that they are. Those who feared they couldn’t achieve anything discover they can. In the process, they build a stronger sense of purpose and self-respect. Kids who thought they had no chance of going to college find that they do. Those who don’t want to go to college find there are other routes in life that are just as rewarding.
In my wood shop, I have been cutting and gluing parts that I hope will build into interesting boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

finding a place in the commonality of all life.

Laminated wood for making small boxes.
Last night I listened as barred owls called in the forest outside, and I marveled at our own place in the scheme of things. We can shelter from the outside world and withdraw into our own spaces in a state of disconnection, or we can stretch beyond the common boundaries of self in the realization of our dependency upon, and commonality with all things. Folks live now in a world of ignorance, in which we are too often disconnected from the natural world and choose to think that is OK. As a very small step toward remediation I offer a few brief quotes.
"Natural geometry (taking the word in its limited sense of study of form in space) is the object of a desire which generally precedes the artificial curiosity for the meaning of letters." E. Seguin.

"Without an accurate acquaintance with the visible and tangible properties of things, our conceptions must be erroneous, our inferences fallacious, and our operations unsuccessful." – Herbert Spencer

"If we consider it, we shall find that exhaustive observation is an element of all great success."  – Herbert Spencer.

"Instruction must begin with actual inspection, not with verbal descriptions of things. From such inspection it is that certain knowledge comes. What is actually seen remains faster in the memory than description or enumeration a hundred times as often repeated." – Comenius.

"The education of the senses neglected, all after-education partakes of a drowsiness, a haziness, an insufficiency, which it is impossible to cure." – Lord Bacon.

"Of this thing be certain: Wouldst thou plant for eternity? Then plant into the deep infinite faculties of man, his fantasy and heart. Wouldst thou plant for year and day? Then plant into his shallow, superficial faculties, his self-love, and arithmetical understanding, what will grow there." – Thos. Carlyle.
I have been thinking of the richness and joy that comes with engagement in community, when the boundaries of self are erased by connections of compassion felt for and expressed for each other. Those were the things that children were to learn in Kindergarten and wood shop before the educational policy makers got involved and twisted things to match their own short term objectives.

Today, I will be working on the 4th chapter of my new book about making tiny boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 22, 2015

a celebration of the child's senses

Two quotes from Édouard Séguin:
"Let us educate the senses, train the faculty of speech, the art of receiving, storing, and expressing impressions, which is the natural gift of infants, and we shall not need books to fill up the emptiness of our teaching until the child is at least seven years old."

"As soon as we, young or old, have taken to the habit of asking the book for what it is in our power to learn from personal observation, we dismiss our organs of perception and comprehension from their righteous charge, and cover the emptiness of our own minds with the patchwork of others."  – E. Seguin.
Yesterday was the last day of the 2014-15 year at the Clear Spring School and high school graduation. Our end of year program is called the Celebration of the Child, and we celebrate much more than the child's reading and math. Each scholar is recognized for the qualities of character they embody and express. Parents were very complimentary of the school's woodworking program.

For the next few days, in addition to planning for next year at Clear Spring School, I will be cleaning the shop and preparing for summer classes with adults. My first summer class will be making Scandinavian bentwood boxes, or Tiner. A fanciful version is shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The doll...

Stacking of shapes associated with Froebel
I was reading in Froebel's Gifts by Wiggin, and found a reference to the unmentioned shape. Assembling the cube, cylinder and sphere outside the order in which they are conventionally stacked and have come to represent Froebel, you'll get a secondary shape, that Froebel preferred to let the child discover for herself.
We now proceed to the cylinder, the reconciliation of the two opposites; an object which having qualities possessed by both occupies a middle ground in which each has something in common. Froebel originally took the doll as the intermediate form "uniting in itself the opposites of the sphere and cube," and thus showed that he understood child nature well, for no toy follows the ball with greater certainty than the doll. – Wiggin, Froebel's Gifts, 1895
As far as I know, Froebel made little further reference to that which is absolutely obvious, as is shown in the photo below. When arranged in this order, the three basic forms found in nature combine to present the form of man. The point here is obvious. The Froebel gifts were not intended as a means of hammering the children to attention but to awaken the child's own gifts of discovery, for nothing engages one's attention more effectively that to discover something for oneself. It suggests the difference between learning and being taught.
"But now as man both unites the single, which finds its limits in itself, and the manifold, which is constantly developing, and reconciles them within himself as opposites, there results also to the child from both, from sphere and cube outwardly united, the expression of the animate and active, especially as embodied in the doll." — Froebel's Pedagogics
The "doll."
Today at Clear Spring School, we have our high school graduation and the Celebration of the Child, our annual end of school celebration.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Froebel's Gifts...

If you don't like how it turns out, return it to the woodpile.
We are at the close of the school year and I'll be wrapping things up, cleaning the school shop and getting ready for summer classes. By inter-library loan, I've received a book by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith called Froebel's Gifts. It is available as a free download from Google Play.
Every child brings with him into the world the natural disposition to see correctly what is before him, or, in other words, the truth. If things are shown to him in their connection, his soul perceives them thus as a conception. But if, as often happens, things are brought before his mind singly, or piecemeal, and in fragments, then the natural disposition to see correctly is perverted to the opposite, and the healthy mind is perplexed. - Friedrich Froebel
If we understand how to see and to thence learn, the matter of belief becomes of little importance because we become directly involved in physical reality rather than in some abstraction of reality compiled and superimposed on our own thoughts by those who would control us. So naturally, schools, left in the hands of educational policy makers have become places for complaisance and indoctrination in which many students are bored and disinterested.

It is puzzling that through schooling children are made to dislike learning, when the state of learning is most natural and fundamental to human growth and development.

One of the best things about a wood shop is the opportunity to learn and express learning in its most direct manner. For instance, after making wooden boxes for almost 40 years, I can still find new things to learn, and new ways to express myself. The chunk boxes shown above are my latest examples. And if schools were to each arrive at an understanding of the role the hands play in learning, the need or school woodshops would be obvious.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

preparing beyond the bubble test...

Adding manes and tails to wooden horses
This was my last day of class in the clear Spring School year, and I had my students first grade through 6th for last class and finishing projects. I also invited my upper middle and high school students into the wood shop to claim finished work and to take a photo of the class.

Now, I'll begin getting the school wood shop ready for classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. Our  end of the school year "Celebration of the Child" will be held on Thursday, and I'll spend some time working on end of year progress reports over the coming weekend.

With common core testing moving to various computer platforms, schools are discovering that lack of keyboarding skills are a handicap to their students' performance. So in addition to usual test prep, they are having to do technological test prep, too, to make certain students don't stumble over the equipment and lose points to their lack of technological expertise. Perhaps teachers will begin to reminisce about the good old days when the bubble test was the norm.

In any case one can see a problem in that those who have had less access to computers in early childhood, will measure less accurately, and just as standardized test scores have always expressed a strong bias against students from poor families, we can expect much more of the same.

Today the first and second grade students completed their wooden toy horses.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 18, 2015

a loss of words...

uncrafted boxes, one open for examination
My apology. This post is rather long for one titled, "a loss of words," but part of it is recycled from an earlier blog post.

Robert Macfarlane describes the loss of words related to landscape and to the natural world and suggests a rewilding of our language is needed. No doubt as the publishers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary continue to reduce content of traditional words to make room for new words like blogger, and broadband, as our children's minds are actually narrowed rather than widened, and as there is truly nothing broad-minded about broadband, we are also losing words that have to do with the making of things. Without going into an exhaustive study of the junior dictionary, I have no way to determine the exact extent of the loss, but a review of the language as it still exists continues to tells us that we've never actually been "human beings," but are "human doings" instead (when we function as god and nature intend).

And so, the question must be asked, "How do we create schools that will benefit all children?" Is there a formula for it? These questions are nothing new. John Amos Comenius, 1592-1670, considered the father of modern pedagogy (the science of education) observed:
Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them.
There is a rapid rise in the use of Ritalin and Adderall to control classroom behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Certainly some girls are diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for it. But the the largest number affected are male. If Comenius was making his observations today, in watching boys, he would note the same qualities in them now as then, and suggest that we make use of their natural inclinations to their educational advantage. One cannot help but wonder if the structured learning in our schools is at least partially to blame for ADHD and the underperformance of boys. That schooling works for some may justify its existence, but that it doesn't work for others should call into question its methods. Howard Gardner popularized the notion that we learn in a variety of ways, that we each are smart in some ways and not others, and yet, there has been no direct implementation of his concepts in American classrooms. So, how do you go about such needed change? I call it the "strategic implementation of the hands" and create my own acronym "SITH." Make everything children learn "hands-on" meaning of course that it must engage the real world, the child's physical senses, and the opportunity to respond to learning through the arts. Simple enough. But it will take work, and it will take change.

The local paper this week proclaimed that students in Berryville, AR are learning "hands-on". In middle school science class they launched a weather balloon to take photos from up in the air. And as much as I applaud them for doing something real for a change, to actually interest the kids in watching something real take place as a classroom activity, there is a difference between simply watching something as a class and actually doing something in each child's hands that can be equally real, and even more real and inspirational to each individual student. Hands-on makes a great headline, that appeals in the newspaper, because you'd have to be dead from the neck down to not know that hands-on learning is best. On the other hand, hands touch every aspect of human culture and should be utilized in every facet of learning, not just for holding one end of a weather balloon as it is readied for rising into the atmosphere.

Again, I applaud Berryville middle school science class for a step in the right direction.

Having mentioned ants in the quote from Comenius, I have to mention the local election. This week our city overwhelmingly supported a local civil rights ordinance to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. Religious conservatives fought a good fight against it, first prohibiting the local Methodists from participating in the "I love Jesus Parade", and then when they lost the referendum, accusing local supporters of civil rights of having put maggots in the mail boxes of those who were opposed to the ordinance. They also accused the supporters for the ordinance of being outsiders. And yet, if they were from around here, and had observed more closely, they would have noticed that what they thought were maggots were simply ant pupae, and that each was being carefully attended by a full grown ant.

This time of year, the ants look for someplace dry to protect their babies, and mail boxes may receive an invasion. In fact, you could say that the ants, in protecting their babies, are simply exercising "Christian values," just as any parent of any species might do under the same circumstances.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

crafted, or not crafted...

The barely-crafted box.
Years ago I paid a sales rep to feature my work at the New York Gift Show. The idea was that he would help me sell hundreds of my finely crafted wooden boxes. Unfortunately  (or fortunately) things didn't work out that way, and when I asked why my boxes and other products had not sold, the answer was that my work was too highly crafted. It could thus not sell cheaply enough for the market. That's a sad state of affairs. Buyers arrive at the show hoping to find things that are unique and cheap, that they can sell at a particular price point at which individual craftsmen are unlikely to compete. After the agents gets 15% of wholesale, and the merchant takes 60% of the selling price, the maker is left holding the bag. He (or she) pays for the materials, overhead, labor and the rest.

And so the challenges of being a craftsman in America live on. We aspire to growth in craftsmanship as evidence of accomplishment and value within our culture. But by investing in craftsmanship, we make our products more expensive than the market can grasp. We've gotten so used to machined perfection, that there is no longer much understanding of human craft or of its value to the individual or to community.

But when we buy a craftsman's work, we facilitate his or her growth to the next level, and invest in the character and intelligence of our communities. Just in case anyone wonders why we have poverty in places like Philadelphia and Baltimore, we need look no further than our failure to understand, appreciate, and foster craftsmanship in each other. Religions lecture morality, but craftsmanship and the culture of craftsmanship actually build it.

Finally, I have a product of my own design that is not so highly crafted. It stands out from the other things I make in that it requires no joinery, no special materials, no particular skill, and can be done quickly with only a small chance of failure. To make matters worse, no sanding is required (except for pulling off splinters)  and no finish is necessary. From a stack of firewood, I can make hundreds of them. If they became wildly popular, I could make a mold from one one of the best and have them injection molded from plastic, and thereby reduce the craftsmanship to absolute zip. But sadly, those would not have the smell of real oak.

So what shall I call these? Does chunk box sound romantic enough?

Today is Books in Bloom, the literary festival that my wife and friends started about 10 years ago. Some of your favorite authors will be there to speak and sign books. This morning I'll be setting up tents. During the mid day I'll serve as a photographer for the event. At 3 PM, I'll take Roy Blount, Jr. to the airport.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

new box judged a success...

I made a new band sawn box design yesterday and displayed it during the White St. Art Walk amidst so many finer boxes that I had made. I could have sold it four times if I had put a price on it, so evidently the new design is a hit, and I should have made a dozen more before the show.

Today I made another for a friend to take to her grandson in Munich. The suggestion is that I leave these unfinished, as the character of the rough wood makes a statement that is lacking in modern life.

Perhaps the second box is as lovely as the first.
Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 15, 2015

word lists...

Make a box from firewood. Split and season first.
A common thing is for teachers to take their vocabulary words that children are expected to know, and create spelling lists for them to look up and memorize. Kids are sent home with these lists and then given spelling tests. Seems pretty harmless, right? That every child in America could spell the same words seems like a good thing, on the surface of things, particularly as we use standards to make certain of homogeneity from one school to another.

On the other hand, what if our spelling lists were drawn from an engagement in real life? A new plan would be for every child to spell that which they could touch and do. In that way, spelling would be made more real. The words for each child's list would be those that each child could use from the experience of using it. In Pestalozzi's school, teachers too, had occasionally become trapped in antiquarian methods. I am once again reminded of this story about Pestalozzi:
Back in the late 1700’s a child in Pestalozzi’s school challenged his teacher, “You want me to learn the word ladder, but you show me a picture. Wouldn’t it be better to go look at the real ladder in the shed?” The teacher was frustrated by the child’s interruption and explained that he would rather not take the whole class outside the building just to look at a ladder. Later, the same child was shown the picture of a window and again interrupted the teacher. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the real window that is right there? We don’t even have to go outside to look at it!” The teacher asked Pestalozzi about the incident and was informed that the child was right. Whenever possible children should learn from the real world and the experiences it offers.
Learning is best when it comes first hand and from experience in the real world, not necessarily the schools that we contrive for them. And it seems perhaps some experts are beginning to agree. This article is attempting to share the wonders of Common Core, but in actual fact is simply telling how children really learn and Common Core has little to do with it. Students learn words by learning about the real world. The idea has been true since Comenius.
"People find the academic word lists and teach from them, not recognizing that what's hard about academic vocabulary is the way it's embedded in domains of knowledge," said Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who specializes in language and literacy development in children.

Too often, teachers end up "teaching lists of words instead of talking to [students] about who Rembrandt was or what the Paleozoic Age was like," she said.
But even better than "talking to" students is to have them learn their vocabulary by doing real things. Touch first then spell.

Today I am getting ready for White Street Art Walk. My work is set up, but I've pricing to do. In addition, I have a teacher end-of-year luncheon to attend, and a third chapter to write.

Band sawn  box from a chunk of oak firewood.
My latest band sawn box for the book is shown in the photo above. It is cut from a chunk of red oak firewood and the only preparation was being seasoned from one year to the next. The lonely piece lying to the left is what's left over and can become another box.

I've added a photo of the almost finished box.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

the interests of the child

Edutopia has an article about 8 myths that are undermining American education. Among the eight  selected from about 50 more are that class size doesn't matter, that good teachers can do it all, without excellent parental support, and that a good program can be cut and pasted to other schools to achieve the same results.

Randall sent an article that tells that common words of childhood in the youth dictionary are being pruned to exclude words based on the child's traditional relationship with nature, to thereby make room for new terms referring to  computing and the child's engagement in computing and virtual reality. I encounter these new terms each day as most of my kids in first and second grade are deeply immersed in minecraft and zombies. The chatter as they work is infused with new culture that is arising as parents leave them unattended at computer screens and less engaged in outdoor play.

According to the Oxford Junior Dictionary, words no longer needed include ash, beech, buttercup, pasture, willow and a whole lot more that would normally illustrate a relationship between the child and a natural world. Robert Marfarland calls for a "rewilding our language of landscape" to include words and phrases that nincompoops of worldwide culture no longer think are necessary to a child's life. Kids need fresh infusions of the real world to bring words of the wild back into their vocabularies and to give them meaning and to give greater meaning to the life of the child. The new world broadband does not describe a child with broad experience in the real world, but a rather narrow one.

Today I'll be setting up for the White Street Art Walk. This is the 25th annual, and I'll be at my usual spot, Lux Weaving Studio, 18 White St, Eureka Springs on Friday, 4 to 9 PM.  We hope the rain passes and the moon shines down on a lovely evening.

On Sunday, Books in Bloom will connect readers and writers on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel, from noon until 5 PM. My wife Jean is the co-founder and co-director of the event, now in its 10th year. for Books in Bloom we again hope the rain passes without effect.

If you want more reading about woodworking education, please go to this earlier blog piece from 2011, On the interests of the child.

On yet another subject, my cousin's son Scott Muns has an excellent review in the Washington Post, reminding that the Wisdom of the Hands is not only about woodworking, for the hands touch everything, including the culinary arts.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

constructing an understanding of the universe...

Choose which textures you hope will speak to the viewer.
Defending the Early Years has come out with a new paper challenging the application of the Common Core Standards for Math in Kindergarten. It seems that when the common core curriculum was proposed, the experts in charge made decisions about what they wanted children to know when they reached college and worked back from there with too little regard for the developmental principles involved in a child's readiness to learn. Again, it's much a matter of assuming children operate like clockworks, that they can be clustered in classes and fed discrete packets of information all at the same time and at some level of effectiveness without regard for their readiness to learn. But just as adults may have sudden compelling insight, it can be the same with kids.

We operate best on the basis of discovery and the educational enthusiasm that can arise when we discover something ourselves stimulates the flow of neural hormones that demand replication, repetition and refinement. Very sadly, those kinds of experiences of raw discovery do not happen very often in classroom settings where children are given nothing to DO.

Just as Finland does a more effective job of teaching reading by waiting until the children are ready to read, the same applies to math. Still, as outlined in the paper above, there are things that teachers and parents can do to build the foundation for math, and it's done by applying the child's hands and minds through learning to do real things. Woodworking, for instance.

We are closing in the completion of my 14th year of the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. When I began, my hope was to demonstrate the value of hands on learning and also to create within myself, a clear voice of authority for describing the means through which the hands and mind are harnessed toward effective learning. In those 14 years, I have made many friends, but few inroads into mainstream education. And much of the problem, I think, has to do with the reluctance on the part of educational policy makers to see how children really learn and how they can be most effectively and efficiently led to success, and how that success is best measured.

It's the same old same old. As a new friend noted:
This is a class issue. From the times of the Greeks, of which the overwhelming majority were slaves, a mark of the upper classes was to have other people do hand work while they did the thinking and relaxing. Academic subculture descends from the Greek philosophers, and has been reinforced over the millennia by that same class distinction. But, to know how to think and use your hands – now that’s power!
But it's a power we must claim for ourselves and that we must assert in the face of those who would continue to enslave us.

Today I will be at home writing chapters for my new book on tiny boxes. In the meantime, and as a walk down memory lane, you might enjoy reading this, How did you learn all that. Part of the problem in education is that adults feel the compulsion to mold the child's understanding of the universe rather than using school resources to extend the child's opportunity to discover it for themselves. And so the simple question, "How did you learn all that?" applies.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

making toy horses

Today in wood shop, my first, second and third grade students made toy horses, just as we did a number of years ago and was shown on youtube.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 11, 2015

pen boxes and Ballistas...

As you can see in the photos, my boxes for turned pens are almost complete. I took step by step photos of the installation of hinges, and routing the edges, and am now turning my attention to captions and step-by-step text. I thoroughly enjoy making things and teaching others how to do so. The rewards are enormous.

For instance, my students Ozrick and Stephen finished making a hand held ballista as a demonstration for physics class. They did all the work in the wood shop and were so excited when they got it to work. Stephen held it in his hands and exclaimed, "I feel so powerful when I hold this!" I asked if that was because it was a form of weapon that could launch projectiles? "No!" he replied firmly. "It's because WE made it!" I know the feeling, and I hope you do, too.

Tomorrow in the wood shop, I have my students from first through 6th grades.

Make fix and create...

moving forward like clockwork...

Anchor escapement animation 217x328px.gif
"Anchor escapement animation 217x328px" by Chetvorno
At Clear Spring School, I'm attempting to repair a grandfather clock that belongs to a supporter of the school. Dave was a long time board member and former board president. The clock had been made in the 1960s by his uncle at the age of 82. It was the third his uncle had made and had suffered in its making by diminished eyesight and declining health, nevertheless, it then suffered through two moves to Argentina, one to El Salvador and then what was to be its final journey as a basket case in the back of my truck to be taken apart by students at Clear Spring School in their study of physics and mechanics, and for the recycling of walnut from the case.

However, the owner of the clock, evidenced such care in careful retention of all the parts, that being dismantled for the reuse of the walnut, and the wrecking of the intricate mechanism that had kept time for over 50 years on two continents, seemed to be an overly destructive solution to a non-working clock.

At this point, I have the machinery of the clock working, and will turn my attention to returning the case to a shape in which it can survive another 50 years.

Schools are devised like clock works of an earlier age. Children are to pass through en mass, learning certain things in order and surely it is noted correctly that children pass through distinct phases of development. Unfortunately, they do so based on a clock within, and not one that is easily and successfully imposed from outside. Children are not clockwork.

However, we can move forward just like the clock in my school wood shop is moving forward one tic, and corresponding tock, as you read these words. It will be by paying close attention to the learning needs of each individual child, by realizing that the "class" as an institutional device too often supersedes the learning needs of the individual child, and that each boy and each girl needs the opportunity to learn by discovery. Put tools in their hands, and give them the materials from which to create.

Regarding the clock, you can learn a lot about its workings by listening to the balance of sounds. When the tick and the tock are heard at equal volume there is a greater coordination between the movement of the pendulum and the force exerted by the weight on the escapement.

Can we also listen very carefully to children in the same manner?

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

fuzzy fruit...

A variety of quickly made small boxes...
There is an interesting interview in American Craft Magazine, Dec/January 2015 with glass artist Paul Stankard. I became familiar with Paul Stankard's work through an article in American Craft over 30 years ago. His work was incredible then and is even more so now. His efforts to achieve skill and vision in his work have carried on. His most recent achievement has been to create the appearance of fuzz on the skin of fruit within his intricately crafted botanical paperweights. His interview called "Who Needs Education" focuses on self-directed learning and the role that formal programs and informal opportunities play in developing the "craft artist." In it he states:
Whether one is self-taught or a graduate of a formal arts program, rising to the top of your field and being recognized for doing significant work is difficult… Formal education isn’t required to reach upper-echelon status as an artist or craftsperson; however, artistic maturity is.
In my own shop, I have been working on far simpler things than fuzzy fruit, that are definitely more approachable than elegantly crafted botanical forms. As I tried to explain to the Stateline Woodturners in yesterday's presentation, the value of work has a great deal to do with where you are going with it, and what your objective is. If my purpose was only that of further developing my own artistic skill I might not have made these boxes, and would not have discovered how much fun they are to make. Since my own artistic journey is that of empowering others to create, to give starting points for others to launch their own creativity is a worthwhile goal. The fun that comes from it is bonus, like the fuzz on a fresh peach.

At Clear Spring School last Thursday, while most of our students, grades one to six were packing up their gear to return from three days and two nights of camping on the Buffalo River, we had a new boy visit the campus with his mom. Our school counselor asked him what he likes to do. "I like to figure out how things work," he replied. He would fit perfectly at Clear Spring School. As you may note, he didn't say, "I want to be taught how things work." He like most boys of his age wants to "figure things out."

Discovery is the key principle that leads from informal learning, through a process of formal learning, back toward informal life-long learning, and ultimate mastery of a craft.

On the same subject, my wife and  I have been noticing one of our squirrel proof bird feeders empty each morning. Since it happens at night, we are convinced that racoons are the predatory agents... They have a raiding party each night. They rotate the feeder from its position hanging in space, to one from which they can stand on their haunches on the deck railing and empty the thing. Racoons are relentless learners just as our children should become, and would become if we were to allow and encourage them to figure things out.

On Friday, the tracking software from blogger indicated that this blog has reached the 1 million page view milestone. I launched the blog in 2006, but tracking only covers the last 5 years or so. In any case, lots of folks have stumbled upon this page. Some return and some have changed their lives in one way or another... Hopefully for the best.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Jones center and StateLine Woodturners

Today I made a presentation on 3D design for the Stateline Woodturners at the Jones Center 922 E Emma Ave, Springdale, AR. I took a collection of boxes so that the club members could help with the participatory demonstration and used the boxes to illustrate the principles and elements of design

In the shop I've been making bandsawn and scroll sawn boxes from olive and myrtle burl. They are fun and they are quick.

Stateline Woodturners is the local woodturning club operating as a regional chapter of the American Association of Woodturners.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 08, 2015

arising from the interests of the child...

As we approach the close of the school year, I have evidence lying around of failed projects that never got quite off the ground.  It's not a matter of nothing having been learned from them, but rather, being projects that were somewhat abstract to the students, and that came from my insistence rather than from their inclinations, failed to launch in their imaginations. Those things that have direct usefulness in their lives, or those abstract things that they have designed and made themselves and at their own inclination are less rarely left behind.

So, I will have some things to clear away and put in my home composting pile, where wood scraps go at the end of the day.

Yesterday, in addition to helping our upper school students with their physics demonstration construction projects, I turned another satellite ring box and began making band saw and scroll sawn boxes. The wonder about scroll sawn boxes is that with some nice material, they can be so quickly made.

So, what did Hanna know, and where did she learn it? The past few days, two of our Clear Spring School students have been taking a jewelry making class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.  When the jewelry teacher asked about the differences in sandpaper grits, Hannah, was the only one in the room who raised her hand. She explained that the the lower the number grit the rougher it would be and the higher the number the smoother and that was why they used the higher number to buff the metal and the lower numbers to take off the burrs. Then the teacher asked, "where did you learn that?" The answer was simple. "Woodshop."  I'm pleased that Hanna would remember and apply what she had learned in other directions.

For some, wood shop is regarded as the ugly stepsister of the "arts." In wood shop, students make things from wood that are more useful than arts stuff and can be just as beautiful, but there have been long noses looking down upon such interests and concerns. Until this last issue, in which Educational Sloyd was mentioned, American Craft Magazine has completely ignored the role of wood shops in the genesis of the Arts and Crafts movement. But Architect, Will Price, had laid out the connection very clearly in a lecture to the Eastern Manual Training Association Conference of 1904 .

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Sorry, I am occupied. The difference between a Froebel gift and an occupation was that a gift was unchangeable in form. It could come out of the box in which it was presented, and then after play and learning from it, be reassembled and returned to the box little worse for wear. An occupation involved making real changes in materials. For example, gift number 10 as described in the Paradise of Childhood was "material" for drawing vertical, horizontal and oblique lines on graph paper. Gifts  number 11 and 12 involved perforating holes in patterns and doing simple embroidery work. Gift number 13 was the "material for cutting paper and mounting pieces to produce figures and forms." Many followers of Friedrich Froebel made little distinction between the gifts and occupations, but the distinction is useful when it comes to understanding the intent. Froebel's purpose was to develop the child's natural inclination toward "self activity" through which the child became a self actualized participant in life.

When the child moves beyond play blocks, there is no reason that creativity should stop. And each of us in our daily "occupations" would benefit from being more creatively occupied. Part of the fulfillment of that comes from having the necessary materials with which to create...

Today in the school woodshop, my students will be working on their physics demonstration projects. Matthew and Hawk are making a small trebuchet, and Ozric and Stephen are making a ballista.

I will be turning one more satellite ring box that I'll alter by making scroll saw cuts after turning. In my home shop I am planning to make small band sawn boxes from spalted maple and myrtle burl. The spalted maple shown above is a piece I found at roadside. Material from which to create...

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

support this kickstarter campaign!

I am busy writing the  first two chapters of my book on Tiny boxes, but am also at that point in the book on making Froebel's gifts, that my editor has all kinds of wonderful questions about Kindergarten. The object of "Making Froebel's Gifts" is to inspire a whole new generation to get involved in object based creative teaching as was inspired by Froebel's invention of Kindergarten.

On that subject, Norm Brosterman, and Scott Bultman are planning to produce a documentary about the History of Kindergarten and its effects on the world of design, including the lives of Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright and so many others.

You can get information about their project and pledge to it through  their Kickstarter campaign. 

Brosterman is the author of the wonderful book, Inventing Kindergarten, and Scott Bultman is a long time enthusiast for Froebel's gifts. The video trailer for the Kickstarter campaign is compelling  and I hope my readers will step forward to help. If I could make one single change in American education, it would be to return schooling at all levels to what Froebel had in mind. The first step is to develop a renewed interest in Froebel, and to help Americans at all levels understand what Kindergarten was intended to be in the first place.

Kindergarten came to the attention of the American public during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, at which manual arts training was also introduced. There a "Kindergarten Cottage" allowed thousands of visitors to witness and become enthralled by the Kindergarten method. It is my hope that Brosterman and Bultman 's History of Kindergarten will have the exact same effect, and launch a thousand new Kindergartens of the type Friedrich Froebel had in mind.

On a similar subject, the Pediatric Academic Society presented data at their annual meeting, that American Kindergartners watch an average of 3.3 hours of TV per day. The study indicated also that youngsters who watched "more than one hour of TV daily are more likely to be obese than children with less screen time." At one time children played with blocks and played out of doors, and we've chosen for them to do diddly squat and endangered their health and their creativity at the same time.

On another subject, I have been asked about wood working classes for an 11 year old boy, whose mother told me that he is absolutely enthralled by woodworking. She wants to give him the support he needs and that she herself feels inadequate to supply. I have invited them to attend a meeting of the Stateline Woodturners at the Jones Center in Springdale this next Saturday. At that meeting, I will make a presentation on the principles and elements of design, as illustrated by a collection of wooden boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

sometime this week....

My first through 6th grade students will be camping this week, so I have this day to work in the shop. I'll be drilling matching holes in the tops and bottoms of pen boxes for my book on tiny boxes and will be making a number of them so they can be done in a variety of experimental designs.

This blog is nearing a milestone of sorts. The tracking software indicates that we will reach 1 million page views sometime this week. In the world of internet tracking, a million page views is not a big deal, but it does indicate that some folks are reading, a few folks are reading a lot, or that many stumble through, never to return again, unless by similar mistake.

My plan for this week is to have the first two chapters of the book on tiny boxes written and off to Taunton Press. If I can then get two more done by the middle of June, I will be on track for completion in very early 2016.

The photo above shows the simple set up for drilling holes for 5 mm. mini barrel hinges. They must be absolutely precise, and so to align the stops on left and right and to make dead certain the holes in the lid align with the holes in the body of the box, I use my flipping story stick technique. In it, I take a piece of wood sized to the exact length of the box and drill clear through with one stop in place. That hole is then used to align the other stop. Flip the stick, lower the drill into the hole, and then (it's nearly a three hander), clamp the second stop block in place. Setting the exact depth is the next step.

Human beings have forgotten much more than any one man can learn, and I know the flipping story stick is not a thing of my own invention. It is something I've discovered myself and found useful whenever something needs to be centered or aligned equally from each end on matching parts.

I have been attempting to repair a grandfather clock belonging to a former board member and long time supporter of Clear Spring School. To watch the well crafted mechanism from an earlier age is fascinating. And we know that the excitement that some feel now, over printing plastic geegaws, was once felt by machinists fabricating and assembling more intricate parts.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 04, 2015

Os trabalhos da mao

Alfredo Bosi wrote a stunning review of the activities of the hands in Portuguese, "Os trabalhos da mao" and some time ago, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Rose Ann Reeser who translated Bosi's text into English at my request. I was reminded of this by a report (through eNable) in Brasil of the continuing problem of machine amputations in the workplace. Fingers and hands are lost to machines  when there are insufficient guards in place and workers are pushed to perform relentless labors. Here in the US, we have OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, to require manufacturers to insure safe working conditions, including protection of fingers and hands and I'm sure they must have something similar in Brasil. People may not like regulation, and conservatives in the US may have an unreasonable hatred for the government, but is it not best that best practices be brought into play to protect the hands?

Bosi's exquisite essay was written out of concern for Brasil's workmen. It can be read in English here: The Works of the Hands.  My thanks again to Rose Ann. Her translation contains a few translator's notes which I have left in place because they add dimension to the text.

Today I will prepare whittling materials for my students to take camping, and will work in my shop on tiny boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Idiocy is an unpleasant term that I have used occasionally in error and exasperation in the blog in making reference to educational policy makers who have successfully extricated the hands from learning. While the term idiocy is no longer used in reference to mental retardation, which is also rarely used, and for good reason, Idiocy was the title of a book written by Édouard Séguin, who had been highly influential in Montessori's approach to education. In Idiocy he wrote of the hand as follows: "
If any part of us challenges a definition it is the hand, its excellences being so many that a single definition cannot comprehend them all. The definition of De Blaineville, "a compass with five branches," justly elicits the admiration of the geometrician; ours, not so dazzling will come nearer to our object—the hand is the organ of prehension.
Prehension has two meanings, one referring to the hand's grasping, controlling and releasing the object, and the other referring to mental "grasp," which is closely associated with the workings of the hand and mind as a system of comprehension. After describing the way in which the hands are used in his technique to work his way through mental impairment to stimulate the minds of his subjects Seguin goes on to state:
The hand is the best servant of man; the best instrument of work; the best translator of thoughts; the most skillful hand is yet, in respect to certain realizations as it were, idiotic; our own hand shrivels before we suspect the thousands of ideas which it might realize.
If only we could reach through to the minds of educational policy makers with the power of our most important instruments...

Last week one of our teachers went on the river with her family for a picnic and met another family with an 11 year old boy. Pulling a watermelon from the cooler, our teacher invited the 11 year old  to cut it up. The boy's mother immediately interfered insisting, "No, he's not old enough to use a knife!" Can we not see the idiocy of that? Or am I out of line in mentioning the stupidity of parents in that situation? Since the boy was not to be allowed to use the knife, my student Alena did the work safely and in short order.

On Tuesday, our students grades 1-6 will go camping on the Buffalo River and I'm preparing sharp knives and whittling sticks to take on their journey. On Friday they practiced their whittling as shown in the photo above. That reminds me of a warning offered by N. Christian Jacobson. Would parents want their children untrained in the safe use of the knife? Would they prefer that they learn their knife work (which they will) in back alleys, and not under the watchful eye of teachers and parents who care for their safety, and responsible practice of technique?

And this leaves me with a final question for my readers. We know the term idiot is no longer considered appropriate when applied to those who have developmental disorders affecting the mind. But there are non-organic developmental disorders that affect the mind's powers, that come when the full powers of hand have not been applied to learning. May I safely apply that term to those in positions of great authority who ignore the role of the hands in learning and fail to apply our most effective educational resources? I intend no offense, but to ignore (as schools have done) the role of the hands in learning and that hands are the most effective tools for the growth of character and intellect should be regarded as either criminal or dumb.

In addition to working on boxes in my wood shop, I've made a new scroll saw stand of materials matching those used yesterday in making a stand for a new band saw. I could have bought a stand of pressed steel, bolts and all, but there is greater pleasure in working things out for myself. You will note that the design of the base for this saw is to invite close work.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 02, 2015

progress and the lack thereof...

New small band saw and shop made stand.
"The nation's eighth graders have made no academic progress in U.S. history, geography or civics since 2010, according to the latest test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)." This is described by an article in Education Week. The challenge in education is to make things relevant in the lives of our students, and if the hands are left aside, or pushed aside by the structure of schooling, relevance is hard to find. As stated in the theory of Educational Sloyd, effective learning must move from the concrete to the abstract. What you can't touch is not concrete, and will not provide the necessary foundation for abstract learning. At the Clear Spring School, we use travel school and engagement in community to make the necessary connections to bring history, geography and civics to life.

We had a fund raiser last night for my Wisdom of the Hands Program, and I was honored and worn out by the attention of so many wonderful people from our community. My students Oakley and Alena, gave instruction to guests as they made their own business card holder/desk accessories and flip cars. So, as one would guess, it was a thoroughly memorable evening for me, and will likely be the same for others. What more can I say? The hands literally touch every aspect of modern life, and while we would like to make things easier for ourselves, that our hands might remain clean, flabby, weak and without exercise, they are the instruments through which human creativity is expressed, and the steps of lasting growth of skill and character are performed.

This morning my apprentice Greg and I met in my wood shop to build stands for new small band saws, and in the afternoon, I have errands to perform for "incredible edibles," a fundraiser Sunday for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 01, 2015

this day...

Hinge parts marked for sawing.
Today I have a reception for the Wisdom of the Hands program at the home of Jim and Susan Nelson in Eureka Springs. The purpose is two-fold. On the one hand, it is important for us to show the foundation that provides funding for my program that it has community support. On the other, it will offer the chance for me to explain the purpose of the program, and how the hands impact learning to people in our community. Clear Spring School and the Wisdom of the Hands program serve as a demonstration for the value of hands-on learning. It has become rather easy for me to talk in public about the Wisdom of the Hands, because I "talk" about this daily in the blog, and practice what I say when I have guests visiting the school.

Last night I watched as folks on TV tried to understand how a young and vigorous black man could have 3 vertebra crushed and his spinal cord nearly severed as he was carried around town in the back of a Baltimore Police van whose sole destination was the police station. The shame of it all is that when it comes to police and black youth in cities, black lives seem to not matter and this same set of tragic attitudes exists among some in cities throughout the US.

In Sweden and Finland in the midst of the industrial revolution, the proponents of educational Sloyd had recognized that craftsmanship was the foundation of community, and that to build strong human values required the application and development of human skill.

William Jennings Byran, a famous Christian demagogue had said, "Outside of the church are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." I think that religion as a factor in the shaping of moral values is a myth. We can look at the long history of the church and its role in subjugation, slavery and destruction for clarification of its role in history. Instead we might say with greater accuracy, "Outside of skilled craftsmanship are to be found the worthless; the criminal, and the degenerate, those who are a burden to society rather than an aid." To that, I would add also that there are some outside the realm of craftsmanship who are rich and careless for the rest of humanity.

In this, I recognize that craftsmanship is not a term applied only to wood working and similar crafts. It describes a steady application and evolution of skill and artisanship toward societal good. Even lawyers, computer  programmers and poets can practice craftsmanship. The Swedes and Finns saw such value in craftsmanship that they founded schools to provide teacher training so that all students would discover their own value to family and community through craftsmanship. I visited one of those schools during my trip to Sweden in 2006 and you can learn about it by typing Nääs in the search block at upper left.

A small Scandinavian bent wood box.
I will be setting up for this evening's event, and rehearsing my remarks. In the wood shop, I've made a bit of progress on making wooden hinges for my new Scandinavian bent wood boxes, as you can see in the photos above.

Make, fix and create...